The European Commission has proposed a controversial reform of the European Union (EU) Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The plan calls for stringent environmental criteria including a requirement to put 7 percent of a farm’s land into conservation crops in order to receive direct payments. There is also a proposal to modify the rules governing distribution of assistance so that Eastern European countries get more of the CAP payments.

One of the controversial provisions would require farmers who receive direct payments to “increase crop diversification, fallow land and preserve ecological reserves and landscapes.” The proposed criteria would apply to 30 percent of farmers' current direct payments. The proposals also call for phasing-in limitations to establish a ceiling on direct payments. The adjustments will redirect subsidies based on the farm’s number of employees. This is designed to reduce the benefits gap between Western Europe, many of whose farms are relatively large and highly mechanized, and Eastern and Central Europe where farms are smaller.

The controversial proposals, which must be approved by the EU member states in the Council of Ministers and by the European Parliament, also triggered immediate criticism from the leading agriculture lobby group called COPA-COGECA. It argued that the proposals do not move EU agriculture toward producing enough food to feed the world's growing population at affordable levels saying, “It does not make sense to require every single farm to stop producing on a certain percentage of their land (ecological set-aside) when world food demand is set to rise by 70 percent by 2050 and production is threatened by more extremes of drought, flooding and storms.”

Environmental groups were not happy with the proposal saying the plan fails to live up to previous promises to “green” the EU CAP.

The EU CAP, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the EU's $120 billion annual budget, has been the subject of criticism because it is said to be “outdated, receives a disproportionate share of EU funding and distorts world agriculture markets.”